ESG Workshop: UK Planning & Permitting for Critical Minerals
Currently, the UK Government is preparing its 2022 Critical Minerals Strategy. The Critical Minerals Association (CMA) expects the strategy to include an urgent and realistic plan of action for how the UK can secure a responsible supply of critical minerals to meet its policy requirements, notably those outlined in its Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, Net Zero Strategy, and Integrated Review.
Following the publication of its flagship Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) paper, ‘A Blueprint for Responsible Sourcing of Critical Minerals’, the CMA was pleased to see a number of its recommendations reflected in the UK Government’s Net Zero Strategy. Our recommendations on streamlining planning and permitting in our ESG paper included: 'Establish an enabling environment for developing and growing a domestic critical minerals sector by streamlining processes, improving coordination across the planning and permitting systems.'
The 2021 Net Zero Strategy stated: ‘The government is committed to working with industry and with international partners to safeguard these supply chains and our future economic resilience,’ and committed to ‘establishing an enabling environment for growing the sector in the UK.’
In early 2022, the CMA organised a series of workshops for UK Government, to delve into the recommendations, put forward in its ESG paper, in greater depth with wider stakeholders. This workshop series included ‘UK Planning & Permitting for Critical Minerals’ and highlighted the importance of the UK’s planning & permitting system in developing the critical mineral extraction and processing projects necessary for domestic critical mineral supply opportunities.
ESG benefits of supporting critical minerals extraction and processing in the UK
In order to meet increasing demand for the critical minerals needed in advanced technologies and the green industrial revolution, mineral extraction and processing should be done in a responsible manner, and aligned with the expectations of international environmental, social and governance processes and standards.
Companies operating in the UK have to comply with UK governance and legislation and go through planning application and permitting processes. These processes are important in terms of ensuring that mines and processing facilities are developed and operated responsibly. If the planning and permitting processes are protracted, as they have been for notable recent mineral developments in the UK, the development of critical minerals projects are likely to lose their competitive edge in terms of contributing towards the UK’s critical mineral supply chains in the coming years.
It can take 10-15 years for an exploration project to become a producing mine due to the complexity of the process, including planning and permitting. To rapidly develop our critical mineral supply chains, practical support to help the planning and processing authorities would reduce unnecessary delays in the process. This might be achieved by the Government providing additional resources to planning and permitting authorities, including offering technical support to less experienced mineral planning authorities, helping them to get applications through the process more quickly.
Prolonged and inefficient planning and permitting processes present big risks for both developers and investors. Many jurisdictions overseas have mining agencies that help to support companies and stakeholders through these processes and facilitate inter-agency alignment. Better resourced and more efficient planning and permitting processes for mineral extraction could facilitate growth of the critical minerals extraction industry in the UK.
By supporting the timely implementation of planning and permitting in UK mineral extraction we can help the current system to perform better, speed up the development of responsible critical mineral extraction in the UK, and ensure that these are developed and operated in line with ESG standards comparable to best international industry practice.
The issues raised in conversation with various stakeholders and our recommendations to the UK, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland Governments are as follows. More information can be found in our paper here.
1. The importance of a domestic supply of critical minerals is not fully recognised
2. Long timeframes in Planning and Permitting process
3. Limited Local Authority and decisionmaker capacity/ experience in mining
4. Unclear roles and responsibilities of decisionmakers
5. Lack of practical support & incentives for Local Planning Authorities
Our recommendations are specifically for critical minerals projects, though we recognise that planning and permitting is a key factor in a much wider range of industries including other minerals in the UK. Ensuring sufficient resources are available for planning authorities and regulators to maximise efficiency, and investing in education around planning and permitting is essential for both the critical minerals sector and the UK economy more widely.
The UK has an opportunity to develop responsible domestic critical mineral projects, adhering to high ESG standards to provide the critical minerals needed for the Green Industrial Revolution. Critical minerals which are not produced domestically will have to be imported from elsewhere.
We hope that UK, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland Governments take on board our recommendations, and the insights which have been collated from engagement with stakeholders in this space. Government has an important leadership role to play in the planning and permitting process, which can be a key factor in attracting investment and creating jobs in levelling up regions. We hope to see the importance of planning and permitting recognised and featured in the upcoming critical minerals strategy.
Article by Kirsty Benham, Co-Founder, Critical Minerals Association